Second Inversion’s Top 10 Albums of 2018

Cheers to another year of new and experimental music on Second Inversion! Our hosts celebrate with a list of our Top 10 Favorite Albums of the Year. From a quiet ocean of percussion to the shimmering orchestras of Iceland and the bold harmonies of Beijing, our list celebrates musical innovation within and far beyond the classical genre.

Michael Gordon: The Unchanging Sea
Released Aug. 2018 on Cantaloupe Music

It’s easy to get lost in the haunting majesty of Michael Gordon’s The Unchanging Sea, the sheer force of its rolling waves echoing across the piano in the hands of Tomoko Mukaiyama with the Seattle Symphony. Gordon’s ocean of sound swells to overwhelming proportions, each wave cresting higher and higher, surging and submerging you in its growling depths. Though originally conceived with an accompanying film by Bill Morrison—a gritty collage assembled from deteriorating film reels and historic footage of Puget Sound—the piece’s sonic imagery is equally vivid on its own.

It’s paired on this album with Gordon’s shimmering Beijing Harmony, a work inspired by Echo Wall at the Temple of Heaven in Beijing, where sounds reverberate from one side of the structure to the other. In performance, the wind and brass players are spread out across the stage—and when you listen with headphones, the music echoes from left to right and back again, all around and through you. – Maggie Molloy


Ken Thomson: Sextet
Released Sept. 2018 on New Focus

Clarinetist, saxophonist, and composer Ken Thomson is known primarily for his work with the Bang on a Can All-Stars. But as it turns out, he’s been living a sort of musical double life as a jazz musician for, basically, ever, much like Ron Swanson as Duke Silver. Unlike Swanson, Thomson has decided to let his alter ego run free. I hear strains of Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue in Thomson’s Phantom Vibration Syndrome, Dave Brubeck’s Time Out in the time signatures, maybe even a little Charlie Parker when the improvisation builds to a frenzy. Thomson brings the complex compositional structures—the details of which I will not pretend to understand—of new music and improvisation together on this album in a way that can only be described as fun. – Dacia Clay


Nils Frahm: All Melody
Released Jan. 2018 on Erased Tapes

Nils Frahms’ latest solo album is striking in its simplicity—the compositions distilled down to their most potent melodies. The album features the composer himself on his usual keyboard collection of pianos, synthesizers, and pipe organs—but here expanded to feature an ethereal choir of vocalists along with subtle strings and percussion. The resulting tracks are an ambient mix of minimalism, mid-tempo dance grooves, and broad, synth-laden washes of sound. Though each song is expertly crafted in iridescent detail, the individual pieces also fit together into a larger whole, the album unified in its wistful harmonies and muted colors. Understated but immersive, it reminds us of the simple pleasure and the intimate perfection of a good melody. – Maggie Molloy


The Hands Free: Self-Titled Debut
Released May 2018 on New Amsterdam

Over the course of the past decade, the four composer-performers who make up the Hands Free have performed together in a variety of contexts. They found that what they loved doing the most was holding informal late-night jam sessions—which is what led to the quartet’s inception. Comprised of violin, accordion, bass, and guitar (plus the occasional banjo), the ensemble likes to perform unamplified, sit in a circle, and integrate a mix of genres ranging from folk music to jazz and improvisation. Their resulting debut album features a beautifully eclectic mix of sounds that depict an immense variety of places and emotions—all while maintaining the warmth and spontaneity of an impromptu jam session.  Gabriela Tedeschi


Anna Thorvaldsdottir: AEQUA
Released Nov. 2018 on Sono Luminus

Anna Thorvaldsdottir finds inspiration in nature—her music is its own ecosystem, the nuanced textures shared, traded, and transformed among individual instruments over the course of her works. The delicate balance of nature is at the heart of AEQUA, a collection of chamber works (plus one solo piano piece) performed by musicians of the International Contemporary Ensemble. Like the stunning natural landscapes of her native Iceland, Thorvaldsdottir’s compositions echo with the full subtleties of timbre, the music expanding and contracting, breathing and humming and vibrating like the earth. – Maggie Molloy


Éliane Radigue: Œuvres Électroniques
Released Dec. 2018 on INA GRM

This beautifully-produced 14-CD set documents Radigue’s career as the mother of dark ambient music. Laboring humbly and hermetically with an ARP 2500 synthesizer and some tape recorders, Radigue spent the 70s, 80s, and 90s perfecting her brand of dense, slow-changing drone music. The works from that time are often inspired by descriptions of states of consciousness in Tibetan Buddhism, bearing such titles as Death Trilogy or Elimination of Desires. They’re best confronted in darkness, without distractions, allowing the mind and ear to absorb their long timeframe (from 17 minutes to well over an hour) and complex sonorities. – Michael Schell


Third Coast Percussion: Paddle to the Sea
Released Feb. 2018 on Cedille Records

Paddle to the Sea was a book that was made into a movie that was made into a live show and album by Third Coast Percussion. In Holling C. Holling’s original 1941 children’s book, a First Nation boy in Ontario carves a wooden canoe and on its side, he writes “Please put me back in the water. I am Paddle-to-the-Sea.” He puts the boat into the Great Lakes where it begins its adventure, and the book follows it on its journey. (Spoiler alert: years later, the boat winds up in a newspaper story that ends up in the hands of the boat’s original creator, who is by then a grown man.) The film, which was released in 1969, added a focus on water pollution to the original story.

Third Coast Percussion composed a new score to perform live alongside the film, including existing works by Philip Glass and Jacob Druckman, plus traditional music from Zimbabwe. Third Coast broadens the focus of the story a little more, asking us to think about our relationship to water and waterways on a grander scale. Their addition to the story doesn’t moralize; it instead draws listeners’ attention to the fact that the water is us—we are Paddle to the Sea. – Dacia Clay


Nordic Affect: He(a)r
Released Oct. 2018 on Sono Luminus

“Hér” is the Icelandic word for here. That idea of being present—of listening, of connecting here and now through music is at the heart of Nordic Affect’s newest album. He(a)r is a collection of seven world premiere recordings penned by women composers and performed by women musicians. Wide-ranging sound worlds from Halla Steinunn Stefánsdóttir, Anna Thorvaldsdottir, María Huld Markan Sigfúsdóttir, Mirjam Tally, and Hildur Guðnadóttir comprise the album, each offering a distinct perspective on the ways in which we hear and create sound—our individual voices and the ways in which they interact. – Maggie Molloy


Invisible Anatomy: Dissections
Released March 2018 on New Amsterdam

Drawing inspiration from the experiments of Leonardo da Vinci, facial polygraphs, and more, Invisible Anatomy’s Dissections uses medical metaphors to explore the risks and joys of opening yourself up to others. The avant-rock ensemble combines the theatricality of performance art with the drama of jazz and classical music, creating haunting songs of danger, intimacy, and dissection.

Fay Wang’s vocals layer and weave into intricate composite melodies and eerie disonances, asking powerful questions about the ways humans interact. With its thought-provoking text and complex, dramatic texture, Dissections is an impressive, hauntingly beautiful debut. Gabriela Tedeschi


My Brightest Diamond: A Million and One
Released Nov. 2018 on Rhyme & Reason Records

Few artists inhabit both pop and classical worlds so freely and convincingly as Shara Nova, the operatically-trained singer and composer behind the art rock band My Brightest Diamond. A Million and One tilts further into electronic and pop worlds than her previous albums, her lustrous voice dancing above synth-laden backdrops and pulsing drumbeats. While the drama and dynamic range of the songs hint at her operatic background, the vulnerability of the lyrics and the sheer danceability of the tracks bring a pop music immediacy to her work. The resulting album is visceral, unconventional, and free—emblematic of the modern day dissolution of genre. – Maggie Molloy

VIDEO PREMIERE: Third Coast Percussion’s Paddle to the Sea (Act II)

by Maggie Molloy

Third Coast Percussion performs an entire ocean of sounds in their new film score for the 1966 classic Paddle to the Sea. From skittering wood blocks to water-filled wine glasses, each instrument adds its own unique shimmer to the sound of the sea.

We’re thrilled to premiere a video of the group performing Act II of their original score, which was co-commissioned by Meany Center for the Performing Arts and performed there earlier this year.

(Click here to watch our video for Act I, which we premiered in May 2018.)

The Oscar-nominated film Paddle to the Sea is based on Holling C. Holling’s 1941 children’s book of the same name, which follows the epic journey of a small wooden boat that is carved and launched by a young Native Canadian boy.

“I am Paddle to the Sea” he inscribes on the bottom of the boat. “Please put me back in the water.”

Over the course of the film, the boat travels for many years from Northern Ontario through the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway out to the Atlantic Ocean and far beyond—and each time it washes ashore, a kind stranger places it back in the water.

Third Coast’s new film score (recently released as an album on Cedille Records) is inspired by and interspersed with music by Philip Glass and Jacob Druckman, along with traditional music of the Shona people of Zimbabwe. All of the music in the score is inspired by water, with Third Coast performing an array of sounds ranging from pitched desk bells to bowls of water, glass bottles, sandpaper, and one particularly special instrument: the mbira.

The mbira is a thumb piano that plays a leading role in the Shona music from Zimbabwe. In fact, one of the pieces on the album, Chigwaya, is a traditional song used to call water spirits in the Shona religion—a song which was taught to Third Coast by their mentor Musekiwa Chingodza. By incorporating elements of their Western classical training with their study of the traditional music of the Shona people, Third Coast weaves together their own epic musical journey.

And in the spirit of Holling’s original story, the music itself becomes the small wooden boat: rather than keep it for themselves, the musicians add what they can and send the story out into the world again for others to discover.


Third Coast Percussion’s Paddle to the Sea is now available on Cedille Records. Click here to purchase the album.

VIDEO PREMIERE: Third Coast Percussion Paddles to the Sea

by Maggie Molloy

Skittering wood blocks, ceramic tiles, finger cymbals, and bowls of water are just a few of the unusual instruments employed in Third Coast Percussion’s new film score for Paddle to the SeaWe’re thrilled to premiere a video of the group performing Act I of their original score, which was co-commissioned by Meany Center for the Performing Arts and performed there earlier this year.

The Oscar-nominated film Paddle to the Sea is based on Holling C. Holling’s 1941 children’s book of the same name, which follows the epic journey of a small wooden boat that is carved and launched by a young Native Canadian boy.

“I am Paddle to the Sea” he inscribes on the bottom of the boat. “Please put me back in the water.”

Over the course of the film, the boat travels for many years from Northern Ontario through the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway out to the Atlantic Ocean and far beyond—and each time it washes ashore, a kind stranger places it back in the water.

Third Coast’s new film score (recently released as an album on Cedille Records) is inspired by and interspersed with music by Philip Glass and Jacob Druckman, along with traditional music of the Shona people of Zimbabwe. All of the music in the score is inspired by water, with Third Coast performing an entire ocean of sounds ranging from pitched desk bells to wine glasses, water bottles, sandpaper, and one particularly special instrument: the mbira.

The mbira is a thumb piano that plays a leading role in the Shona music from Zimbabwe. In fact, one of the pieces on the album, Chigwaya, is a traditional song used to call water spirits in the Shona religion—a song which was taught to Third Coast by their mentor Musekiwa Chingodza. By incorporating elements of their Western classical training with their study of the traditional music of the Shona people, Third Coast weaves together their own epic musical journey.

And in the spirit of Holling’s original story, the music itself becomes the small wooden boat: rather than keep it for themselves, the musicians add what they can and send the story out into the world again for others to discover.


Third Coast Percussion’s Paddle to the Sea is now available on Cedille Records. Click here to purchase the album.

New Year, New Music: January Concerts in Seattle

by Maggie Molloy

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Second Inversion and the Live Music Project create a monthly calendar featuring contemporary classical, cross-genre, and experimental performances in Seattle, the Eastside, Tacoma, and places in between! 

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Keep an eye out for our this flyer in concert programs and coffee shops around town. Feel free to download, print, and distribute it yourself! If you’d like to be included on this list, submit your event to the Live Music Project at least 6 weeks prior to the event and tag it with “new music.”

Program Insert - January 2018

 

Wayward Music Series
Concerts of contemporary composition, free improvisation, electroacoustic music, and sonic experiments. This month: vintage sampling keyboards, avant-garde noise, graphic scores, and etudes from the likes of György Ligeti and John Cage.
Various days, 7:30/8pm, Good Shepherd Chapel | $5-$15

Seattle Symphony: Ligeti Violin Concerto
Grammy-winning violinist Augustin Hadelich joins the orchestra for a performance of György Ligeti’s stunningly virtuosic Violin Concerto. Also on the program: Stravinsky’s long-lost Funeral Song and Mozart’s sublime Symphony No. 39.
Thurs, 1/4, 7:30pm, Benaroya Hall | $22-$74
Sat, 1/6, 8pm, Benaroya Hall | $22-$74

Paper Puppet Opera: Schubert’s ‘Winterreise’
One of the darkest works in the classical canon is reimagined through bleak shadow puppet abstraction in this Schubertiade-meets-puppet-show spectacular. Baritone David Hoffman and pianist Peter Nelson-King join the Paper Puppet Opera for a shadow puppet performance of all 24 songs in Franz Schubert’s Winterreise.
Fri, 1/12, 7:30pm, Trinity Parish Hall | $25
Sat, 1/13, Trinity Parish Hall | $25

Jesse Myers: To Sober and Quiet the Mind
Seattle pianist Jesse Myers presents an evening of introspective solo piano works from the masters of time and space—Arvo Pärt, Morton Feldman, John Cage, and more. Forgo the chairs and bring a pillow or mat for the ultimate musical meditation.
Fri, 1/12, 8pm, Good Shepherd Chapel | $5-$15

Bern Herbolsheimer Musical Memorial
In celebration of the late Bern Herbolsheimer’s life and music, the St. Helens String Quartet and local soloists come together to perform a selection of his chamber works.
Sat, 1/13, 5pm, Good Shepherd Chapel | FREE

Second City Chamber Series: Just Us Folks
The Carpe Diem String Quartet performs chamber works inspired by folk music from every corner of the world, featuring music by Erberk Eryilmaz, Vittorio Monti, Lev Zhurbin, Dave Brubeck, and more.
Fri, 1/19, 7:30pm, Annie Wright School, Tacoma | $10-$25

SCMS Winter Festival
Seattle Chamber Music Society’s annual Winter Festival features a variety of classical music performances from across the centuries, including 20th century works by Amy Beach, Paul Hindemith, Dmitri Shostakovich, William Walton, and Edward Elgar.
1/19-1/28, Various times, Nordstrom Recital Hall | $16-$52

Spontaneous Combustion New Music Festival
This brand new music festival touring through Seattle, Portland, and Eugene features contemporary music by the likes of Julia Wolfe, Andy Akiho, Andrew Norman, Steve Reich, and Lou Harrison, among others. Featured performers include Ashley Bathgate, the Sandbox Percussion Quartet, the Iktus Duo, and more.

Delgani String QuartetFri, 1/19, 8pm, Good Shepherd Chapel | $20
Orlando CelaSun, 1/21, 3pm, Youngstown Cultural Arts Center | $20
Hub New MusicMon, 1/22, 7:30pm, 18th & Union | $20
Iktus DuoThurs, 1/25, 8pm, Good Shepherd Chapel | $20
Sandbox PercussionSat, 1/27, 7pm, Music Center of the Northwest | $20
The City of TomorrowTues, 1/30, 7:30pm, The Royal Room | $20
Ashley BathgateThurs, 2/01, 8pm, Rainier Arts Center | $20

NUMUS Northwest 2018
This day-long event is dedicated to the creation, performance, and experience of new music in Seattle and beyond. Musicians, composers, and curious bystanders alike come together for a day of live performances and interactive presentations on topics ranging from fundraising to networking, media pitching, grant writing, and more.
Sat, 1/20, 8:30am-9:30pm, Cornish Kerry Hall | $20

SMCO: Journeys of Discovery and Hope
Seattle Metropolitan Chamber Orchestra performs Gabriela Lena Frank’s Leyendas: An Andean Walkabout. Mixing elements of Western classical with Andean folk music traditions, the piece draws on the concept of mestizaje: where cultures can coexist without the subjugation of one by the other. Also on the program is Haydn’s Mass for Troubled Times.
Sat, 1/20, 8pm, Plymouth Congregational Church | $15-$25

Third Coast Percussion: ‘Paddle to the Sea’
Third Coast Percussion performs their own live score in this special screening of Paddle to the Sea, a Canadian film which illustrates the epic journey of a young boy’s small wooden boat from Northern Ontario to the Atlantic Ocean. Third Coast’s film score weaves in music by Philip Glass and Jacob Druckman, along with traditional music of the Shona people of Zimbabwe.
Thurs, 1/25, 8pm, Meany Theater | $28-$44

Erin Jorgensen: Bach and Pancakes
It’s Bach like you’ve never heard it before—on marimba! Erin Jorgensen performs a marimba arrangement of Bach’s Cello Suite No. 2 in D Minor, followed by a pancake breakfast.
Sun, 1/28, 10am, Studio Current | $5

Pacifica Chamber Orchestra: Sunshine Concert
From scherzos to serenades, the Pacifica Chamber Orchestra performs 20th century works by Dag Wirén, Julius Fučík, Eugène Bozza, and more.
Sun, 1/28, 3pm, First Presbyterian Church, Everett | $15-$20

Music of Remembrance: Art from Ashes
Music of Remembrance presents a free community-wide concert to honor International Holocaust Remembrance Day, featuring chamber music written in Terezín and in the Vilna ghetto, plus works by composers whose lives were cut short by Nazi persecution.
Mon, 1/29, 5pm, Nordstrom Recital Hall | FREE

Second Inversion’s Top 10 Albums of 2017

From Icelandic sound sculptures to pan-global jazz, found sounds and field recordings to sprawling, city-wide operas, 2017 was filled with some pretty incredible new music. As this year draws to a close, our Second Inversion hosts take a look back at our Top 10 Albums of 2017:

The Industry and wild Up: Hopscotch (The Industry Records)
Release Date: January 13, 2017

Hopscotch is by far the most inventive, labor-intensive, and meticulously designed work of the year. Live performances of the opera take place in 24 cars on three distinct routes, stopping at various locations-turned-performance spaces throughout Los Angeles. It involves everything from animated sequences exploring themes of identity and community to hearing star musicians perform in the car with you as you ride to your next unknown destination. The album recording is just as expansive, inviting the listener to experience the musical narrative in a non-chronological order, with multiple singers forming a composite of each character’s identity.

Intentionally disorienting, surprising, and overwhelming, artistic director Yuval Sharon and his team at the Industry have created an absolutely immersive experience—and audiences have been blown away. – Brendan Howe


yMusic and Son Lux: First (Communal Table Records)
Release Date: February 17, 2017

Something I hear frequently said about new classical music, from detractors and fans alike, is that it’s hard to listen to. First is a decidedly “new classical” album that does not fit into that framework at all. It’s—and I say this without irony—a freaking delight to listen to. It’s full of stories; for example, in the titular track, the instruments seem to be vying for first place until this looming bass note kicks in, threatening to take them all down. The titles themselves kickstart the imagination: “Trust in Clocks,” “Memory Wound,” and “I Woke Up in the Forest” are some of my favorites. Composer Ryan “Son Lux” Lott and producer Thomas Bartlett took yMusic’s edict to make a chamber music record structured like a rock album to heart and, with the addition of amazing performances by the group, turned it into art. – Dacia Clay


American Contemporary Music Ensemble: Thrive on Routine (Sono Luminus)
Release Date: February 24, 2017

Thrive on Routine was an interesting choice of title for ACME’s 2017 release. Timo Andres’ programmatic string quartet that follows the potato-tending and Bach-playing morning routine of Charles Ives thus becomes the album’s centerpiece, and by relation the rest of the selections are colored by the idea of beauty arising from the mundane. Minimalist textures in Caleb Burhans’ “Jahrzeit” and John Luther Adams’ “In a Treeless Place, Only Snow” provide a sense of calm and even pacing, while a deliberate, almost “learned” style extends from Andres’ title track to Caroline Shaw’s “in manus tuas” and “Gustave Le Gray” for solo cello. – Geoffrey Larson


Iceland Symphony Orchestra: Recurrence (Sono Luminus)
Release Date: April 7, 2017

The massive, slow-moving sound sculptures of Iceland shimmer and sparkle in Recurrence, an album of ethereal orchestral works by five emerging and established Icelandic artists. Daníel Bjarnason leads the Iceland Symphony Orchestra through a luminous program ranging from Thurídur Jónsdóttir’s kaleidoscopic “Flow & Fusion,” to María Huld Markan Sigfúsdóttir’s oceanic “Aequora,” Anna Thorvaldsdottir’s icy and iridescent “Dreaming,” and more. Each piece on the album is a gorgeously abstracted soundscape in itself, showcasing the small Nordic island’s all but unparalleled explorations of texture, timbre, and immersive, atmospheric colors in music. – Maggie Molloy


PRISM Quartet with So Percussion and Partch: Color Theory (Naxos)
Release Date: April 14, 2017

Mixing colors takes on new meaning in Color Theory, an album blending the hues of four saxophones with an experimental percussion quartet and the microtonal musical instruments of Harry Partch. The PRISM Quartet teams up with So Percussion and the Partch ensemble to explore the full spectrum of color in music, from the deepest blues to the boldest reds, oranges, and yellows. Steven Mackey’s “Blue Notes & Other Clashes” mixes colors ranging from muted to magnificent through eight short movements culminating in a prismatic fantasy, while Ken Ueno’s “Future Lilacs” explores the shifting shades of the overtone series and Stratis Minakakis’s “Skiagrafies” paints a sonic canvas with color-changing harmonies. – Maggie Molloy


Amir ElSaffar: Not Two (New Amsterdam Records)
Release Date: June 16, 2017

In a year choked with disunity in nearly every part of our lives, trumpeter Amir ElSaffar’s jazzy pan-global album Not Two offers a welcome musical melting of borders. ElSaffar draws inspiration from different cultures and their instruments, primarily Western Asia and America, and declares that they “do not exist as separate entities ‘belonging’ to any people or place.” His humanism coupled with the skill of his collaborators results in an album that pulses with mystical jazz spells, thrills with august horns, and reminds us that music is egalitarian. Knowing that Not Two was recorded in one marathon 16-hour session is just the cherry on top of ElSaffar’s accomplishment.
Rachele Hales


Los Angeles Percussion Quartet: Beyond (Sono Luminus)
Release Date: June 16, 2017

LAPQ’s Beyond pushes the boundaries of what a percussion ensemble can do, with a healthy dose of ambient-leaning music combined with a smaller measure of perhaps slightly more familiar groove-based music that might seem more typical of percussion repertoire. With works by heavy-hitting composers Daníel Bjarnason, Christopher Cerrone, Anna Thorvalsdottir, Ellen Reid, and Andrew McIntosh paired with thoughtful and delicate execution, Beyond is a tour-de-force that stands at the leading edge of music for percussion. – Seth Tompkins


Third Coast Percussion: Book of Keyboards (New Focus Recordings)
Release Date: August 4, 2017

If classical music is a volcanic island, percussion ensembles are the lava and magma that makes the new land. They’re always on the edge, pushing out, making new sounds with new instruments. And that’s exactly what Third Coast Percussion is doing on Book of Keyboards. They’ve recorded two works by modernist composer Philippe Manoury—sometimes sounding like an elaborate wooden wind chime orchestra, and at other times leaving long, worshipful tensions between notes.

Some of the instruments used on this album are familiar enough—like marimbas and vibraphones—but I’m gonna bet you’ve never heard the sixxen, because they were invented by a guy named Iannis Xenakis (also an avant-garde composer) and homemade by Third Coast. I wonder if performing on instruments that you’ve made by hand is as exciting/terrifying as flying a kit plane that you’ve built in your garage? Third Coast never lets on, moving through these two works, “Le Livre des Clavier,” and “Metal,” like seasoned pilots flying in formation. – Dacia Clay


Qasim Naqvi: FILM (Published by Erased Tapes)
Release Date: September 29, 2017

Perhaps best known as the drummer from the group of acoustic virtuosos Dawn of Midi, Qasim Naqvi also plays other instruments and composes both art music and music for television and film. The album FILM, as you might guess, falls into the latter category. Released in September of 2017, FILM contains music written for the film Tripoli Cancelled and the video installation Two Meetings and a Funeral, both by Naeem Mohaiemen. This release, like other projects by Naqvi, celebrates the legacy of Moog synthesizers. The atmospheric sounds on this album were inspired by disused architecture, and sometimes recall the music of John Carpenter. – Seth Tompkins


Bang on a Can All-Stars: More Field Recordings (Cantaloupe Music)
Release Date: October 27, 2017

Some composers can make music out of just about anything—and that’s precisely the idea behind the Bang on a Can All-Stars’ More Field Recordings. A star-studded cast of composers are each asked to find a recording of something that already exists (a voice, a sound, a faded scrap of melody) and then write a new piece around it.

A follow-up to their original 2015 release Field Recordings, this year’s rendition is a colorful patchwork of found sounds and sonic squares from the likes of Caroline Shaw, Ben Frost, Nico Muhly, Richard Reed Parry, and Glenn Kotche (to name just a few), with the All-Stars playing along to field recordings ranging from quilting interviews to Chilean birdsongs, lava fields, and snoring sleepers.
Maggie Molloy

2017 New Music Grammy Nominees

Extra! Extra! The 2017 Grammy nominees have been announced and we’re here to celebrate the discs that have been featured as our Album of the Week or in regular rotation on our 24/7 stream. Congratulations to all of the nominees!

2016 Second Inversion Albums of the Week

Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance

Steve Reich — Third Coast Percussion (Cedille)
Second Inversion Album of the Week February 15-19

51moxudgtlIn their new album, the quartet surveys the composer’s works for percussion over a four-decade span, beginning with the most recent: his three-movement Mallet Quartet. Composed in 2009, the work is scored for two vibraphones and two five-octave marimbas. Third Coast Percussion twirls effortlessly through the circling motives and interlocking canons of the two outer movements, transitioning seamlessly both in and out of the central slow movement. A stark musical contrast between the thinly textured, almost transparent middle movement against the persistent pulse of the outer two brings color and narrative to the piece. – Maggie Molloy

Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance

Serious Business — Spektral Quartet (Sono Luminus)
Second Inversion Album of the Week February 8-12

dsl-92198-coverSpektral’s new album, titled “Serious Business,” is anything but serious. The album comprises four different perspectives on humor through the lens of classical music, featuring three new works by living composers and one classic from that late, great father of the string quartet, Joseph Haydn.

But don’t let the lighthearted humor fool you—these guys are no classical music newbies. Comprised of violinists Clara Lyon and Austin Wulliman, violist Doyle Armbrust, and cellist Russell Rolen, the Spektral Quartet performs music from across the classical music spectrum. The group is committed to creating connections across the centuries and providing a discourse between the traditional classical canon and the, well, not-so-traditional contemporary classical canon. – Maggie Molloy

Best Music Film

The Music Of Strangers — Yo-Yo Ma & The Silk Road Ensemble (Sony)
Second Inversion Album of the Week July 25-29 (companion album to the film)

Sing Me HomeWe need music now more than ever—not as a distraction or an escape, but as a gateway toward experiencing our shared humanity. We need music to open our hearts, our ears, and our minds. We need music to connect us in ways which transcend language, religion, tradition, and geography.

That’s the idea behind Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble, a global music collective comprised of performers and composers from over 20 countries throughout Asia, Europe, and North America. – Maggie Molloy

Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album

Real Enemies — Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society (New Amsterdam)
Second Inversion’s Album of the Week October 10-14

a2976727568_16Whether you’re a conspiracy theory junkie or a sideline skeptic, even the most patriotic of us loves a good old-fashioned conspiracy. Whether it’s the Watergate scandal or the inner-workings of the Illuminati, alien sightings or the mysterious murder of JonBenét Ramsey, we just can’t help but turn up our ears when we hear a juicy top-secret scheme.

And since we’re already listening, Brooklyn-based composer and bandleader Darcy James Argue decided to take our eavesdropping ears to the next level: his new album Real Enemies is a 13-chapter exploration into America’s unshakable fascination with conspiracy theories. Performed with his 18-piece big band Secret Society and released on New Amsterdam Records, the album traverses the full range of postwar paranoia, from the Red Scare to the surveillance state, mind control to fake moon landings, COINTELPRO to the CIA-contra cocaine trafficking ring—and everything in between. – Maggie Molloy


2016 albums in rotation on Second Inversion’s 24/7 stream

Best Surround Sound Album & Best Engineered Album, Classical

Dutilleux: Sur La Mêe Accord; Les Citations; Mystère De L’Instant & Timbres, Espace, Mouvement — Alexander Lipay & Dmitriy Lipay, engineers (Ludovic Morlot & Seattle Symphony) (Seattle Symphony Media)

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Best Contemporary Classical Composition

Winger: Conversations With Nijinsky — C. F. Kip Winger, composer (Martin West & San Francisco Ballet Orchestra) (VBI Classic Recordings)

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Reich at 80: A Second Inversion Reichathon

We are celebrating Steve Reich’s 80th birthday in great style with a 24/7 streaming marathon of his music. Tune in all day!

We’re also paying tribute with reflections on these three ECM recordings, re-released in honor of the big 8-0.

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Two sonic worlds collide in Steve Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians: the mechanical and the meditative. The piece layers the intimate, organic rhythm of the human breath above the hypnotic rhythmic pulse of pianos and mallet instruments, thus creating two different aural experiences of time—simultaneously.

Composed amidst the social revolution following the Vietnam War, Music for 18 Musicians spoke volumes about that period in American history: its driving rhythms and circling melodies suggested optimism, harmony, and progress. In fact, Reich included more harmonic movement in the first five minutes of this work than in any other composition of his to date.

He based the entire work on a cycle of eleven chords played at the very beginning of the piece, which are then stretched out across the entire 60 minutes to serve as a larger harmonic backdrop—effectively turning that eleven-chord cycle into a pulsing cantus for the entire piece.

Masterfully performed with his Grammy award-winning ensemble Steve Reich and Musicians, Reich arranged for each of these harmonic shifts to be cued audibly by the melodies of the metallophone (a vibraphone with no motor) rather than through a conductor. His reasoning? “Audible cues become part of the music and allow the musicians to keep listening.” – by Maggie Molloy

 

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The second disc of the ECM New Series anniversary set of Reich recordings features three works: the Music for a Large Ensemble of 1978, Violin Phase of 1967, and the Octet of 1979. A reissue of the label’s 1980 release, the polished sound of this recording is somewhat astounding. The performances are fantastic and un-conducted, performed by a crack team of chamber musicians that play with excellent pitch and execute the rapid, sparkling eighth note runs that drive this music with flawless technique. The composer himself performs on piano in Music for a Large Ensemble. Though occasionally balance can feel biased toward the endlessly jamming notes in the piano and mallet instruments to the detriment of female voices or long string chords, the sound of this recording is generally well rounded. These performances don’t at all have the feel of a premiere recording of music that is brand-new; instead it seems like we’re hearing accounts of works that have been performed many times and have already entered the canon of late-20th Century music, as Reich’s works now have. It may have been recorded in 1980, but this is an album fit for 2016 and beyond.

This part of ECM’s exploration offers us different perspectives of Reich’s instrumental works, both large and small. Shem Guibbory’s performance of Reich’s Violin Phase is placed between the two ensemble works, standing apart both in character and in compositional process. A recording of the violinist performing one phrase is repeated, with the same recording layered over itself first in perfect unison. The recordings are then shifted gradually so they play in an ever-changing canon, eventually adding a third recording of a countermelody that helps to spin the work into an almost symphonic concert piece. Rhythm alone drives the tension and release of this work, as we are occasionally frustrated by the chaos of the sound of the same phrase being played just slightly out of sync with itself, but find repose when the clatter locks into a cohesive rhythm. I love the way the stereo sound is mixed in this recording, such that we can feel the different Shems standing in a sort of semicircular ensemble in front of us.

The addition of voices to the mix of a wind and percussion instruments, as Reich does in Music for a Large Ensemble, is an interesting choice on multiple levels. First, it most explicitly characterizes this genre of Reich’s music as a result of the singing of the human voice, when in other Reich works, the constant bouncing of the eighth note runs can make it feel mechanical and, well, un-singable. This quick figuration often disguises the more vocal qualities of his instrumental works like the Octet, which features long lines in the string instruments, and in some works Reich makes a point to use brass and woodwinds to play a recurring chordal figure that can only be played in one breath. The human breath is then more of a measure of time in Reich’s music than the bar, that tyrannical measure of music that organizes everything into groups of four beats (or less often in Reich’s music, three, five, six, etc.). Thus, the use of voices and trumpets in Music for a Large Ensemble not only adds interesting timbres of sound, it changes our perception of units of time. The juxtaposition of these fast and slow elements happening simultaneously (and often in canon within themselves), shows Reich firing on all cylinders.

These effects that work so well in Music for a Large Ensemble are accomplished on a slightly more intimate level in the Octet “Eight Lines,” where two pianos are the only instruments of percussion used, joined by two flutes, two clarinets, and four strings. Like an intricate painting that reveals stunning detail when viewed very close but grandiose images when viewed from far away, Steve Reich’s music offers different levels of experience when listened to in different ways. A gradual zooming-out seems to take place over the course of the Octet, with the long line in the strings that starts with a single chord transforming into a long, flowing melody by the end, threatening to overwhelm the eighth note motor of the pianos and woodwinds.

All three performances have a sparkling joy to them which, beyond showing a technical mastery of the many elements of these works that are difficult to accomplish in precisely the same way throughout, show off groups of musicians that act as fantastic advocates for Reich’s music. In a way, the fact that so much of this music could be performed well by computers in all their unfailing precision is dangerous, because it is this element of joy that is the crucial end goal of all those notes and repeating figures, an element of distinctly human touch. It makes the artistry of these Reich recordings all the more valuable. – Geoffrey Larson

 

tehillim1In celebration of Steve Reich’s 80th birthday, I am delighted to be writing about the re-release of the fantastic 1981 ECM recording of Tehillim. This is a superb recording of a fascinating piece. This performance (which includes the composer as a player) is practically perfect, showcasing the beautifully clean, warm, and streamlined sound of Reich’s music. Furthermore, the intricately economical construction of this piece, which reveals more layers of internal connection the more deeply one delves into it, makes these two tracks an excellent way to spend 30 minutes.

In Reich’s own words, Tehillim can be seen as both “traditional and new at the same time.” This pleasing dichotomy, referring to both Reich’s own traditions and those of Western Art Music as a whole, runs throughout the piece. Tehillim is Steve Reich’s first explicit musical foray into his Jewish heritage. Reich began studying Jewish cantillation in 1976, and traveled to Israel the following year; these experiences would contribute to the eventual composition of Tehillim in 1981. In total, even though this piece diverges from many of Reich’s typical practices, Tehillim still has the balance of energetic and meditative elements that makes all of Reich’s music so appealing. Additionally, Tehillim is remarkable in the tightness and efficiency of its construction; many elements of this piece interlock and relate to one another in a manner that is extremely pleasing in its economical nature.

The balance between old and new in Tehillim is in large part connected to Reich’s choice of source text. The word “Tehillim” is the Hebrew word for Psalms; it from that book of the bible that the text for this piece comes. In making this choice, Reich gave himself space in which to create; in almost all modern versions of Judaism, the traditional of singing the Psalms has been lost. This allowed Reich to select source text that was not loaded with accompanying musical baggage.

Getting into the actual music of Tehillim, many elements of Tehillim center on the source text. The instrumentation, musical patterns, and harmonic movements all have roots in the Psalms. Psalm 150, an excerpt of which forms the text for the final part of Tehillim, even provides basic instructions for instrumentation! It mentions drums, strings, winds, and multiple types of cymbals as instruments with which to execute praise, and all of those instruments are represented in the piece. Reich’s inclusion of clapping and maracas also have roots in the music of the Biblical period.

The rhythmic patterns in Tehillim are significantly different from minimalism for which Reich is best known. Instead of the short repeating patterns seen in piece like Music for 18 Musicians, the rhythms in in Tehillim stem from the rhythms of the text itself; Reich would later use this technique in pieces including The Cave (1993) and Different Trains (1998). So, instead of the “traditional” repeated short rhythms expected in Reich’s music, he achieves continuity with four-part canons, “functional” harmony, and imitative counterpoint, techniques which are more closely associated with more traditional Western Art Music than with Reich’s music.

Although those traditional techniques come from the Common Practice period of Western Art Music, there are other influences here, too, that contribute to the juxtaposition of old and new in Tehillim. In addition to the biblically-inspired instrumentation, the vocal parts are sung without vibrato, harkening back to ancient singing styles. Additionally, the rhythmic action that underpins most of the work has the complex interlocking structures that, while common in much of Reich’s music, do not come from any Western tradition.

Despite all of the intricately crafted and tightly interrelated elements of this piece that apparently diverge from Reich’s standard techniques, Tehillim still sounds like Steve Reich. While not repetitive, the rhythms here still have an energetic constancy that recalls Reich’s other work. The non-vibrato vocal parts also sound like Reich; the same technique is present in Music for Mallet Instruments, Voices, and Organ and Music for 18 Musicians. Also, in Tehillim, as in Music for 18 Musicians, the voices are used as instrumental colors, although since there is text Tehillim, the voices do more than just add color. However, Reich does not seem to draw a distinct line between these two functions of the voice in Tehillim; the voices enunciate the text in repeating phrases, then extend the final sounds of those segments to blend back into the ensemble color, returning to more purely instrumental vocal sounds of Music for 18 Musicians. So, while the four-part canons and (gasp!) functional harmony may not be expected, Tehillim is clearly still classic Reich.

Overall, the effect of this piece is one of meditation followed by joy. The instrumentation, although strongly tied to the Psalm 150 text, provides a comforting sense of intimacy when combined with Reich’s supremely effective orchestration. This is perhaps a reflection of the meditative and self-searching origins of the piece.

Like many larger-scale works of minimalism, the feeling at the end of this piece is one of a coming ecstasy. It is the building knowledge that a tremendously positive event is imminent, and that the event will be overwhelming but also at least partially unknowable. In the case of a work focused on exploration of religion, this feeling might be better described as the sense of approaching a great mystery: one which will be joyful and significant, even though it remains eternally enigmatic. – by Seth Tompkins


And for some more memories down Steve Reich lane, here are some of our past features on his music:

Third Coast Percussion Album Review

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New Music Apps, including Steve Reich’s Clapping Music

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Videos produced by Second Inversion:

And a bonus tribute from community member Michael Schell:

Steve Reich at 80

A triumvirate of composers — Steve Reich, Terry Riley and Philip Glass — has come to epitomize minimalism as it coalesced in New York in the 1960s. Of the three, Riley can claim precedence (his In C got the ball rolling in 1964), and Glass can claim the most commercial success. But I think it’s Reich who earns the most admiration from other composers, perhaps by a wide margin. It’s not just because his music is sophisticated and groundbreaking, but also because it has a kind of integrity that reflects the rigor and commitment to exploration that Reich has always brought to his creative process (and indeed to his life). Consider the range of Reich’s early experiments:

  • Tape pieces where he layers short loops of recorded speech until they become melodic (Come Out)
  • Live electronic music (Pendulum Music)
  • “Phase” pieces for a solo instrument playing in and out of sync with its prerecorded copy
  • The piece Four Organs, unique even in Reich’s output, basically a 20-minute rhythmic elaboration of a single E11 chord

It wasn’t until after he went to Ghana in 1970 to study Ewe drumming that Reich’s most recognizable style took shape: percussion-centric ensembles playing highly contrapuntal music built from short, repeated, syncopated phrases. This is the sound world of his most famous works (like Music for 18 Musicians) and there was every opportunity to cash in and churn out piece after piece using the same formula. But instead Reich kept moving forward, trying out atonal harmonies in The Desert Music, digital sampling in Different Trains and intermedia in The Cave, always meticulously crafting the finished product to his highly self-critical standards.

At 80, Reich has seen his compositions recorded, discussed and analyzed many times over (well, except for Come Out, which lacks a conventional score, though I have a go at transcribing one here). And nowadays it’s easy for composers to write music that sounds like Reich. But it’s the integrity behind Reich’s work that I think will most powerfully define his legacy and keep it relevant for generations to come. – Michael Schell